Vote Yes on Question 1: Right to Repair

By | September 16, 2020

In November each Massachusetts voter will elect a President, Congressman, Senator, state representative, state senator, and a member of the Governor’s Council.

Each voter will also be asked decide two ballot questions.

Ballot Question 1 “would require manufacturers of motor vehicles sold in Massachusetts to equip any such vehicles that use telematics systems — systems that collect and wirelessly transmit mechanical data to a remote server — with a standardized open access data platform. Owners of motor vehicles with telematics systems would get access to mechanical data through a mobile device application. With vehicle owner authorization, independent repair facilities (those not affiliated with a manufacturer) and independent dealerships would be able to retrieve mechanical data from, and send commands to, the vehicle for repair, maintenance, and diagnostic testing.” Massachusetts is just one of seventeen states where such legislation has been proposed.

As a former software developer this seems pretty reasonable to me. Most software services provide APIs (applications programming interfaces) that let developers and even normal users access that data. Such APIs give consumers access to their own data and provide the ability for third-party developers to create useful software.

But the “Coalition for Safe and Secure Data” (Safeandsecuredata.org) opposes open access to automotive repair data. Waving away the consumer’s right to their own data, the “Coalition” instead has decided to make it all about fear and danger. And they have chosen to disguise their real identities, portraying themselves as defenders of data privacy:

Question 1 has nothing to do with fixing cars. Question 1 is a data grab by third parties who want to gather your personal vehicle information and access it remotely, including location data in real time. Domestic violence advocates warn how dangerous this information could be. Jane Doe, the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, wrote, “Access to vehicle data, particularly call logs and GPS location, enables persons who perpetrate abuse to possess the tools necessary to track and monitor their victim.” A similar proposal failed in California after the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault warned, “from this information, a third party, such as a sexual predator, could stalk and/or harm victims.” Privacy advocates, cybersecurity experts, and domestic violence advocacy groups urge you to vote NO on Question 1.

Who the “Coalition’s” privacy advocates and cybersecurity experts are, they don’t say. But one search of opponents turned up the Security Industry Association, Apple, and the Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance (MITA), which claims open standards in medical imaging “would increase the risk to patient safety.” These are all corporations and industry associations.

These scare tactics are what Apple Computer used when Nebraska wanted to make it easier for consumers to repair their own laptops. If Nebraska passed the legislation, Apple argued, the sky would fall and the state would become a haven for hackers. The tactics worked. Legislators abandoned their bill.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation — which is the same group behind the ballot question — has bankrolled a video intended to scare Bay State voters:

A camera slowly stalks a woman walking to her SUV in a desolate, empty parking garage. “If question 1 passes in Massachusetts, anyone could access the most personal data stored in your vehicle,” a narrator says. “Domestic violence advocates say a sexual predator could use the data to stalk their victims. Pinpoint exactly where you are. Whether you are alone …” The woman’s keys jingle as she approaches her car. The camera gets closer. The woman whips her head around. The stalker has found her. The screen flashes to black. “Vote NO on 1,” the narrator says.

But it turns out the real predators are America’s automotive giants.

From Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance data, we now know who these self-described privacy defenders really are. They are the North American auto industry and their lobbying wing.

The Alliance For Automotive Innovation seeded the “Coalition” with $42,672 and the Association of Global Automakers invested another $90,000. The remaining donors are exclusively North American automobile giants: BMW ($238,453); Chrylser ($2,190,919); Ford ($4,458,776); General Motors ($5,462,880); Honda ($2,966,420); Hyundai ($724,969.50); Jaguar ($15,687); Kia ($1,190,611); Mazda ($31,871); Mercedes-Benz ($200,000); Mitsubishi ($17,260); Nissan ($2,406,924); Subaru ($716,125); Toyota ($4,519,009); Volkswagen ($298,307); and Volvo ($10,710). All totaled, opposing Question 1 will cost the automotive lobby about $25 million.

Refuting the auto industry’s scare tactics, dozens of cybersecurity experts from securepairs.org, including cryptologist Bruce Schneier and former DOD security expert Robert Ferrell, dismiss industry fear tactics and support Right to Repair legislation.

securepairs.org views repair and re-use as rights of owners and regards obscurity and proprietary interfaces as the real security risk. For securepairs.org, open access is like open source: review and repair actually increase security, and it ought to be designed into the product in the first place not “provided” by creating vulnerable data interfaces and giving only manufacturers access to them. ACLU technologist Jon Callas agrees, and has lobbied Congress to make the Right to Repair a federal issue.

Another group, repair.org, which consists of mainly service repair professionals, regards the Right to Repair as a simple consumer issue: “You bought it, you should own it. Period. You should have the right to use it, modify it, and repair it wherever, whenever, and however you want.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation agrees. It also supports both Massachusetts Right to Repair legislation and the ballot initiative: “If you can’t fix it, you don’t own it.”

With misleading language an issue in the disqualification of previous ballot initiatives, it is shocking that the Massachusetts Attorney General and Secretary of State permitted such misleading claims on a ballot question from opponents of Right to Repair.

But now you know. Vote YES on Question 1.